Critically important

I’m a weekly guest on an American podcast and during the latest recording, I was told off. A listener had written in to say that I shouldn’t talk about television because my opinion was no more valid than anyone else’s.

This isn’t the first criticism I’ve had. Previously, as a British writer on a US podcast, I have been told to drop the fake English charm shtick.

But it is the first time I’ve responded.

So, yes, I did it. I said on air about having spent more than a decade being a paid TV critic on Radio Times, BBC News and BBC Ceefax. I said I was Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. I said I was a scriptwriter and a dramatist.

In my defence, I didn’t mention that I was once fired off a TV drama.

But in my attack, I don’t think I can describe what I did here as anything better than having been a prat. I did it quickly, it was under 15 seconds, but the prat level was high.

In that lightspeed moment, though, I did build to a point, which was this: everybody has an opinion about television shows, but hopefully mine comes with an informed background. Rather than just saying something is the best show ever, I’m hopefully able to capture what is so good and convey that to help you decide whether it’s worth watching.

There is an argument that this is more useful now than ever. Since we have so much television and film, since so very much of it is so tremendously good, it is a wall of drama and comedy. The sheer volume of it all is a barrier to finding any of it to watch.

So anything, anyone that can bring your attention to a show that you will then love, that has to be good.

Except, there used to be paid, professional TV critics who really just wrote about themselves and how clever they are. Who perhaps sneered about a show being exactly the same as every other one before it –– or sneered at a show trying to be different. And who tell you details about a show in order to sound as if they’re the ones who created it, regardless of whether that detail spoils the series.

Today we have fewer paid, professional TV critics, and about eleventy-billion more unpaid ones.

So many of whom have recently been damaging a show that I like, If you don’t already know it, I think you’ll like it too.

As I write for American publications, I have a press pass to the new Disney+ service. It’s not available here in the UK, but I can see whatever shows Disney’s press office wants to show me. So far there’ve been about eight shows, so it’s barely a fraction of what is on the actual service, but it has included the Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

I watched the first one for my work but I’ve watched another two since purely because I enjoyed it so much.

And there is definitely one stand-out element of the series.

I don’t think you can actually separate out elements of a drama, you can’t solely say that an actor, for instance, is the reason to watch because he or she couldn’t act at all without the script. But you can identify something that is attention-grabbing, and The Mandalorian has one of those.

It is excellently well done, it is even a delight, and if you won’t read what it is from me, unfortunately all you have to do is look left or right on the internet and you’ll find out.

I think it’s unlikely that Disney’s press office will continue to put episodes of this show on its screening service for writers like me: anyone writing about the show has seen these and I’m sure Disney+ has other shows it wants to push.

So any moment now, I’m going to have this supply of Mandalorian episodes cut off and will have to wait until whenever Disney+ comes to the UK to see the rest.

And yet, I’m still going to know more about it than I want to. TV critics, journalists, all media writers, have already revealed this delightful element and they’re going to continue doing so. I’m not trying to seek out spoilers, I am trying to avoid them, and still have got through to me, still they will continue to.

I think the critical part of TV criticism is gone and we’re left with being barkers. Shouting about shows to get attention, ideally for the show but usually for ourselves.

I love that any drama can get inside you so much that you want to talk about it. I think that’s wonderful. I just get bored when the talking is empty. I get annoyed at spoilers. And I merely fear for the soul of humanity when the reaction to a finely-crafted piece of emotionally true drama is that the star used to be in Frozen.

Now excuse me, I need to go practice my English charm.